The Convergent Art Education at Black Mountain College
This paper discusses the significant interplay between artistic practices and educational ideals at Black Mountain College, which was often called a treasure of avant-garde art in the 20th century, and pays special attention to the convergent nature of the relationship. Black Mountain College transcended the bounds of art genres, while emphasizing freedom of expression and diversity in beliefs. The college also tried to marry democracy and art by supporting idealism grounded in community and civility. Therefore, the convergent spirit of Black Mountain College, in response to the rapid and pressing social demands of our modern society, can be recognized as a symbol of creative experiments in the history of the arts.
This paper presents two key chapters. Chapter 2 examines the historical contexts and philosophies in the efforts to found Black Mountain College. John Andrew Rice, the founder and first rector of Black Mountain College, was influenced by John Dewey’s philosophy of experience and education. Rice agreed with Dewey’s view that experience would be more important than isolated knowledge and then sought to design a curriculum for community life and collaborative labor within the school. This underlines the will to break free from the idealization of art itself. The main mission and goals of Black Mountain College were different from those common in the national art institutions of America during the 1930s. While art institutions were burgeoning with various aesthetic forms towards the renovation of the American art world, Black Mountain College developed a critical approach towards the relationship between art and modern society, thus remaining independent from organizations supported by the government and the art business.
Chapter 3 includes deep analyses of two educational practices in the arts that emphasize the importance of convergence. The first to be examined is Josef Albers’ material education, which seeks a balanced body of discipline, choice, explorations, and the freedom to make mistakes. His dialectics on education was applied across disciplines and developed into a material education, as an alternative to Greenbergian, media-specific formalism. Secondly, John Cage’s experimental music and multimedia performances are examined to find common traits with contemporary media art, such as the operation of chance; the emphasis on process; the performance as the whole, in a stark contrast with aesthetic quality; the marriage between audience and performer; and the lack of consistent narrative themes.
Taken together, this paper considers the convergent art education at Black Mountain College. Adopting the ideals of the European Bauhaus in using experimental materials and methods, the art education of Black Mountain College was the harbinger of the convergent qualities of contemporary art. Moreover, their art education was remarkable, in the sense that the college questioned the roles and responsibilities of art in modern society, where people seek creative ideas and innovative solutions to problems posed by rapidly changing social environments.